This is an extraordinary
book about race relations in America. And by 'race relations" I mean blacks
and whites, as Ralph Ellison would have meant those words sixty years ago. But The Miner's Canary is about much
more. It's about all-minority-cultures
and whites in America.
And in direct opposition to the
color-blind solution the Supreme Court has decided the Constitution requires,
the book's authors esteem and celebrate and find strength, including political
strength, in our separate cultural identities -- including the (non-oppressive
part of the) cultural identities of white Americans.
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When I put The Miner's
Canary down, I wished I had read the Acknowledgments first, then the chapter
"by" Torres. The book is a difficult read, and it has many authors. It is in the best sense of the term a
The voice I identify as that
of Lani Guinier* seems sometimes to address junior high school students and
other times to address law professors. So the book has many levels of analysis,
and it treats its central topic "political race" -- from many angles. These
are not shortcomings, but they add up to a very demanding book.
The book's real-life
examples, however, are all wonderful and all one -- compelling and utterly
elucidating. And the long illustration of how Greek democracy in action would
look if it followed American districting and apportionment rules is simply
Then there's the book's
immediacy. Prominent economic historian Robert Fogel has emphasized the roles
of technology and religious activism in America's movements for social
justice, relegating progressivism to the status of an adjunct to the latter.
The Miner's Canary, on the other hand, puts the struggle for social justice
squarely within the politics of progressivism. This is not necessarily
inconsistent with Fogel (whatever one thinks of the validity of his argument),
assuming Fogel's subject is American political movements in the past before
about 1980 when the Big Sleep set in -- which it is -- and assuming The Miner's
Canary is describing developments since about 1980, which it is. The book certainly
does not denigrate pre-1980 activism in America, but it says something new
has been happening since them. This new
thing Guinier and Torres call "political race."
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originality and insights of this book far outweigh its difficulties due to
multiple voices and an "un-ironed out" presentation. Read it and find
out what "political race" is, or at least what it was five years ago. You won't regret it.
*Footnote: Lani Guinier (born April 19, 1950) is an American civil rights scholar. The
first black woman tenured professor at Harvard Law School, Guinier's work includes professional
responsibilities of public lawyers, the relationship between democracy and the
law, the role of race and gender in the political process, equity in college admissions, and affirmative action. (From Wikipedia's Lani Guinier entry)
"How could I fail to speak with difficulty? I have new things to say."
I graduated from Stanford Law School in 1966 but have never practiced. Instead, I dropped back five years and joined The Movement, but it wasn't until the 1970's that I (more...
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